Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Down the hospitality rabbit hole

You never know what something is like until you do it. I think that's what part of the attraction of traveling is: the newness of experience. I enjoy traveling immensely, always to new places, often to familiar places. A week ago I went to my annual place of retreat, The Botrivier Hotel, which is probably a one an a half star, if it were ever to be star rated, yet I am really comfortable there.

Traveling for recreational purposes serves many facets of experience from novelty to excitement to rest and comfort. Whatever the soul needs, otherwise the soul wouldn't be traveling. I have been thinking about recognizing what the soul  needs, wondering about what our guests want to experience. When we started off in hospitality our kindly star grading assessor, Mark, said many practical and pithy things which have formed a basis for understanding what we do. "A comfortable bed and hot water," he said. "No-one expects to be without these." Well, from these basics to the bells and whistles of a five star hotel is quite a leap.

I have heard that some boutique hotels have a private swimming pool for each suite.The main thing, as I understand it, is that if people pay for what they want, they are entitled to get what they want. This seems fair enough, but I am surprised, sometimes, at what people want.

Special occasions, moments, relationships and experiences are to be sought after, but consistent opulence and extravagance? I didn't grow up in a wealthy home, and just flying, for the first time, seemed a grand event. The first time I flew business class I was uncomfortable and felt out of place for ten minutes, before settling into it and enjoying the experience.

When I went into the etymology of hospitality I found that hospitality, hotel, host, hostel and hospital come from the same idea of shelter while traveling or required for the purpose of healing. You needed to stay over, either because you were on the road, or because you had to receive medical assistance.

It certainly is a rabbit hole, and choice is the biggest part. No-one wants to go to hospital. The atmosphere is very different, and if the efficiency is excellent, it will be more clinical than indulgent.

But my musings took me further: choice, necessity, expectations and desires began to blur in my thinking as I thought of all the guests who have passed our way, pursuing the stories of their lives. The activiites as host follow fine divisions between seeing to real needs, pandering to whims, ignoring madness, feeding the soul, creating special spaces and offering support when guests arrive troubled.

We have found much meaning and satisfaction in setting ourselves the challenge that if guests arrive unhappy, they should leave happier. The bed and the breakfast are the practical basics: setting the tone for pleasantness, cordiality, recognition, respect and laughter of the right kind are the un-grade-able bits of the service -levels we strive to maintain. At the end of the day, relationships with guests is what makes it all worthwhile. What do such short relationships mean? Well, some friendships have developed and lasted over the years. But for the most part, when folk shake my hand as they leave, I become aware that I an unlikely to see them again, and frequently a pang of pain crosses my heart. When I first felt that, I thought it was ridiculous. Why on earth should a practical and financial exchange involve emotion of any kind? However, etymology is a worthwhile study, one of my favourites, in fact, and if we are to recognize our humanity fully, it's not so strange for carefulness, curing, traveling and shelter to mingle.

At Saint du Barrys, that's how we like it to be. We don't offer surgery, but there is a Clooney coffee machine in each room.

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